The cypress bark roofs require regular repairs to keep them in good condition. Here is a professional hard at work at the temple in early February.
If you look closely at the four corners of the five-storied pagoda, you can see four figures helping to hold up the weight of the roof of the first floor. It was difficult to take clear photos, be ready with a good zoom setting to get better shots than this! I’m missing one figure, his photograph just didn’t turn out quite right…
When facing Kon-do, if you look to the left and right corners of the roof, you will see these two figures. It is said that these figures depict Kosekiko (黄石公), the Yellow Stone Elder, riding on top of an ancient tortoise. In Japanese lore, the tortoise is believed to live for up to 10,000 years. These figures were added to the roof of Kon-do some time after it was moved to Ninna-ji and express the wish that Kon-do may stand for thousands of years just as the tortoise and Kosekiko have lived for thousands of years. You can see that the two tortoises have also taken on the role of agyō and ungyō, guardians with one mouth open for the sound “ah” and one closed making the sound “un.”
The Sutra Hall was completed in the mid 17th century. With double doors flanked by flower shaped windows, the Sutra Hall is a structure unified by Zen architectural elements. Inside, six Buddhist images including Sakyamuni, Manjusri, and Samantabhadra are enshrined. The inner walls are adorned with images of the eight great Bodhisattvas and the sixteen Arhats.
Inside, there is an octagonal rotating sutra shelf with 96 drawers on each side, equalling a total amount of 768 drawers in all. The drawers are filled with Buddhist scriptures.
Standing between Nio-mon and Kon-do, Chū-mon serves as the entryway to the heart of the temple grounds where the five-storied pagoda and Kannon-do are found. This gate was built during the reconstruction of the temple in the early 17th century. Compared to Nio-mon and Chokushi-mon, Chū-mon may seem relatively simple in design, but it is a prime example of early Edo period architecture.
Fearsome statues can be seen on either side of the gate. On the left stands the Deva King Guardian of the West, and on the right the Deva King Guardian of the East.
The bell tower was built during the 17th century reconstruction of the temple. It features a tiled irimoya (hip-and-gable) roof. The lower portion of the tower is of the hakama-goshi style, named for its likeness to the flared “hakama” skirt worn with traditional Japanese clothing. At many places temple bells are visible, but, as you can see, at Ninna-ji the bell is fully inclosed.
As you look into each room in Shinden, you’ll notice the different paintings that depict one of the four seasons, and you’ll notice that the last room is more embellished than the others. The last room, the “Upper Room” （上の間 jō no ma), was the abbot’s chamber and is splendidly decorated from floor to ceiling.
What you may not notice is that the floor of the room is actually raised up considerably from the level of the other rooms. Recently, Shinden was open for the ikebana event and the sliding doors were opened, revealing the step up into the last room more than usual.
While you might not be able to observe the difference as easily as you can in this picture, it is also possible to see the difference in height from outside of the rooms. Usually visitors are too busy appreciating the paintings and other embellishments in the room to notice it initially, but the raised floor is one more detail that makes the Upper Room a more formal space than the others.